Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Teen center draws support decision delayed to May 6

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By PAULENE POPARAD

There's nothing fun to do and no safe place to go, teens and parents told the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday.

Due to the town's publication error, Ralph Osborn has to wait until a special meeting May 6 at 6 p.m. to find out whether he can open a teen recreational center at 136 Grant St.

During last night's public hearing, which will be continued May 6, comment was overwhelmingly in support of Osborn's plans to open Josh’s Place, where youth ages 12-17 can enjoy activities like pool and air-hockey, and special events like X-Box or PS3 tournaments and themed seasonal/sports parties.

Teens Abbi Milligan and Emily Tezak, and 14-year-old Josh Osborn, after whom the teen center would be named, gave the BZA separate petitions of support totalling they said more than 300 signatures obtained at Chesterton High School and Chesterton Middle School.

Local teachers and parents also urged the BZA to approve the use variance the teen center requires in its Business-2 zoning district.

Ruth Morisette called the plans wonderful. “There’s nothing in this town (for kids) to do but drugs. There is a very, very big drug problem in this area. This will get (kids) off the street.” She also said local teens tend to group into cliques and Josh's Place will enable them to meet and know new people outside their own circle.

Whitney Arrizola, 21, said when she was in school bullying was a big problem and the teen center will be an opportunity for kids to connect in a positive way.

CHS teacher David Milligan, who counsels teens how to avoid substance abuse, said Ralph Osborn has a passion for kids and Milligan's own teens are excited about Osborn's plans. “I know they'd be safe because I know Ralph.”

Will Thompson, co-owner of T&T Gaming in downtown Chesterton, called Josh's Place an exciting concept that needs to happen because the alternatives for bored teens aren’t good ones.

However, Thompson later expressed concern under remonstrance over children walking or on bikes cutting through Thomas Park across the railroad tracks to reach Josh's Place on their north side. BZA president Kim Goldak asked Osborn and his attorney, Greg Babcock, to address the matter May 6.

BZA member Fred Owens also asked that the duo address noise from the building where dances and live bands occassionally are planned. Owens did note a dance club and arcade are allowed in the B-2 zone.

Member Rodney Corder said he wants to know how Osborn would help enforce the town curfew, which he pledged to observe, that imposes different curfews for different ages.

Entry to Josh’s Place will be by an admission fee or paid membership after showing a valid school identifcation card, or a parent/guardian has submitted ID confirmation and age.

Board member Sig Niepokoj, referring to a recent melee in Portage, asked Osborn to describe May 6 how he will prevent “outside influences” from causing problems here.

Osborn put the word out loud and clear Thursday: there will be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs, alcohol, smoking, loitering, fighting or misconduct of any kind. He pledged to work with Chesterton police, who will be authorized to conduct random sweeps with a K-9 unit.

“If you get in a fight, I don't want you back; we are not here to do drugs, hang out and have a bad reputation," Osborn warned. He said he plans to invest about $35,000 in the business and he wants it to succeed.

Goldak said she wants more information about food that will be served at the teen center, and asked what formula Osborn will use to determine how much adult security/supervision he needs for teen-center events.

Parking and traffic have been a key concern in reviewing Osborn's petition even though most of the teens are too young to drive. He is asking for a variance to have 41 parking spaces in a lot north of the Grant Street building or 42 less than town code requires.

Osborn said he's worked with Chesterton Police on a traffic plan for the teen center. Babcock said overflow parking could be directed to a grassy lot south of Grant Street east of the South Shore railroad cars. The latter's owner, John Klikus, by letter said he has no problem with the teen center but won't permit parking for it on his property.

Don Johnson, who spoke in support of the teen center during public comment, said he operated a martial arts school in Chesterton for several years with sometimes 200 students yet the parking and pick-up were orderly.

A second letter, from Carolyn Johnson, was received in support of Osborn’s petition. Eighteen people were present in the audience Thursday.

Osborn said he's been working on his plans with an architect since August, 2009 and chose the 6,000 square-foot Grant Street building because it is one-story with no dark corners so the teens can be well supervised.

Osborn became emotional when concluding his prepared remarks to the BZA saying he's tried to touch the interests of every teen in the community, and he wants every parent to feel comfortable with their child in his care.

 

Posted 4/23/2010

 

 

 

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